brock warner canadian fundraising

Even if you’re not a Canadian fundraiser, but are curious about how fundraising is done in Canada, you should check out this interview!

I seem to have a thing about interviewing Canadian Fundraisers, including Laura and Noelle from the SickKids Foundation on Online Fundraising, Christina Attard (about Planned Giving), Paul Nazareth about his nonprofit career in Toronto, and even Lisa Taylor, founder of The Challenge Factory, who is technically not a Canadian fundraiser, but she has helped people get involved in the Canadian nonprofit world!

But back to Brock Warner. Who is he? And why should you care?

Brock Warner currently works at Stephen Thomas Ltd as an Account Executive, where he is able to work on some of the most cutting-edge non-profit marketing and fundraising campaigns in the country.

He is also currently a Research Assistant for The Philanthropic Mind, a book set for release in late 2012, and was named one of Canada’s Most Notable Young Professionals in 2011. He is a contributor to the international crowd-blog 101fundraising.org, a TEDx presenter on Digital Storytelling for non-profits, and co-chair of Young Non-Profit Professionals.

So, there’s that.  Wish I was a TEDx presenter!

Mazarine: What are some ways that Canadians have MORE resources than Americans when it comes to nonprofit fundraising?

Brock: It’s hard to say. We have more land, but unfortunately for fundraisers we have far fewer people living on it. The Toronto Chapter of AFP is the largest AFP chapter in the world, which is something we are very proud of.


Mazarine: What are some ways that Canadian fundraisers have FEWER resources? As I understand it, in some ways, Canadians have fewer nonprofit resources than Americans, more restrictions (can’t buy direct mail lists, can’t get special nonprofit mailing rates, less of a tax break if someone gives to their nonprofit) ?

Brock: For direct marketing fundraisers like myself, a big difference is the economies of scale that national US charities can tap into. And as you mentioned, Canada doesn’t have a nonprofit postage rate. Our donation tax benefits aren’t too different. As I understand it, the US rebates are variable based on the household tax rate, whereas in Canada each province has their own fixed percentage credit on the first $200 of the donation, then a higher percentage on the balance of the donation. Quebec has the highest benefits, Nunavut has the lowest.


Mazarine: Is there a particular nonprofit sector that is growing right now in Canada? (Environmental fundraising, domestic violence/human services fundraising, other?)

Brock: This may sound a bit odd for your American readers, but a really exciting area of growth is in Alumni giving. Canadian university fundraising programs are growing, and certainly always looking to the US as a model of success. A good example is U of T’s current $2 billion “Boundless” campaign.

Mazarine: What do you wish more nonprofits knew about direct mail fundraising?

Brock: That not all direct mail loses money! People that have never done a proper direct mail fundraising campaign are usually the first to tell me how ineffective it is. Yes, acquisition mailings lose money. But you plan for that and mitigate the overall risk by not doing them in isolation, and especially without a well planned strategy to reactivate and upgrade these new donors.

Mazarine:  What mistakes do you see over and over again with clients in terms of online fundraising?

Brock: I have to answer generally, rather than about my clients because it is my job to make sure they don’t make these mistakes! So in general, it is typos. I see typos all the time! I’ve made mistakes, and the advice I was given was to just be aware of your weaknesses, then put processes in place to address them. So when it comes to testing links and proofing copy, just don’t do it in isolation. Ask a couple co-workers to give it a look before you hit send. You’ll be amazed at what a fresh set of eyes can find.

Mazarine:   Have you ever seen a nonprofit that REALLY has it down in terms of online fundraising? Who should we go look at as an example of this?

Brock: I’m a fan of PETA’s tactics. They vary the call to action and the creative, while still maintaining a consistent organizational voice. They often are sent on behalf of a person, whose name appears in the From field, and as a signatory in the body. Personally, I prefer to see this over a message that sounds cold and institutional.
NAKED PETA GIRL ADMazarine: It’s funny, I met a fundraiser from PETA at the nonprofit technology conference this year and she said she was happy about their TV ads being banned because that made people see them online all the more. So they actually TRY to get their videos banned, to create viral videos for online fundraising. I think most nonprofits do not take that route, but it would be more interesting if they did!

Mazarine:  What resources would you recommend for fundraisers who want to expand their skillsets with online fundraising and direct mail? (Books, websites, Twitter people?)

Brock: I’d start by bookmarking a few of these great blogs – 101fundraising.org, theagitator.net, fundraisingdetective.com, and sofii.org.

Last year Guy Mallabone released a great text, Excellence in Fundraising in Canada.

And, The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter and Allison Fine has been a great tool for me, especially their Free Agent analogy for how a younger demographic of supporters are likely to engage with your cause.

If you’re on twitter, I share sector blogs all the time so you could follow me – @brockwarner and I’ve set up an automated account that shares a new charity-related blog post at least once per hour – @charityspout.

Oh, hey, also, I do a webinar about direct mail, for YOU to get more money in the mail. Check it out here

Mazarine Treyz: What’s your background in fundraising?

Brock Warner: Well I haven’t been at this for very long, but I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by very experienced professionals that are unbelievably supportive. It’s really given my career a jump start. I’ve been fundraising since 2007, but have only been doing it full-time since 2009. My first job at a hospital foundation near my hometown providing some basic admin support around the office in the summer. Then I went to Humber College in Toronto to do a postgraduate certification in fundraising. That finished with an internship at Amnesty International, which lead to my current position at Stephen Thomas Ltd where I’ve been for almost 3 years now.

(It may be worth noting that in Canada although we do have universal healthcare, hospitals are required to fundraise in their community to purchase priority medical equipment.)


Mazarine: Why did you join Stephen Thomas Limited?

Brock: As an intern with Amnesty my role was to support their Human Rights House capital campaign prospect research. Amnesty didn’t have the physical space for an intern, but the volunteer Chair of the campaign did have space in his office – the chair was Steve Thomas. I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor, because he let me shadow him just about everywhere he went. He even let me attend a small meeting with Jack Layton, former leader of Canada’s NDP until he passed away last Summer.

When my 10 week internship was wrapping up, Amnesty didn’t have a full-time opening so I applied for an entry-level position at ST and got it. After having spent 10 weeks immersed in the ST culture, accepting the position was a no-brainer.


Mazarine: How does Stephen Thomas help nonprofits?

Brock: In a nutshell, we help nonprofits raise more money. We do that by listening to what our clients goals are, the challenges they are facing, then developing and executing a direct response fundraising strategy that meets their needs. The agency is best known for our expertise in direct mail, but the agency has greatly diversified over the past decade and now we have the skill and capacity to execute integrated campaigns which are a must for any charity with, or wanting, a robust annual giving program.

Thanks for the interview Brock!

Want to see more posts about direct mail for nonprofits?

3 Steps to Getting More Money In the Mail
How many stories should you put in your appeal?
How to get money in the mail
 Interview with Jules Brown of Dear Joan, How to Get More Money in the Mail
Anatomy of an Effective Appeal
What to do when someone messes with your appeal letter

The Inner game of writing your appeal letter

Reader Questions: Does adding extra stuff to your appeal mailing work?


If you have any more questions about online or direct mail fundraising, please let me know, and I’ll get the Qs Aed in the comments!